Harvard Club Considers a Change, and Some Think It’s the ‘Worst Thing Ever’

Members of the Harvard Club are upset about a proposal to turn the majestic Harvard Hall, designed by the famed architect Charles McKim, into a dining room. Credit: Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

On the wood-paneled walls of Harvard Hall, the majestic heart of the Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan, hang portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and other notable graduates. The head of an elephant, a gift to the club, hovers in an alcove where members luxuriate on plush leather couches to read and sometimes nap.

It is a place of elegance and quiet contemplation, and as rarefied spaces go, there are few more rarefied. “I see it as Harvard asserting its primacy as an early American institution,” Barry Bergdoll, a professor of modern architectural history at Columbia University, said of the room.

But when the club’s leadership proposed turning Harvard Hall into a dining room, the sniping among members had all the gentility of a barroom brawl.

“I have been called a fascist dictator,” Michael Holland, the club president, told more than 200 unhappy members during a meeting on Sept. 12.

Harvard Hall has been used for dining before, from 1905 to 1915. Credit: Harvard Club

The crowd booed. “I am not defensive,” he said.

According to people in attendance and a recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times, one member accused Mr. Holland of sending misleading emails. People clapped when a person called for the club’s leadership to resign. Still others questioned why a change was necessary given the club’s overall financial health.

Depending on whom one talks to, the proposed change to Harvard Hall is either a vast conspiracy to turn the esteemed club into a catering-venue-for-hire or an attempt by the leadership to stem losses in its food and beverage business.

It is not uncommon in the genteel world of New York private clubs for members to weigh profit and convenience. But the members of the Harvard Club seem to be taking this proposal personally.

Ivan Shumkov, an architect, called it one of the most sacred spaces in New York, having been created by an architectural icon, the Harvard alumnus Charles McKim. “If we destroy Harvard Hall,” he said that night, “I think it will be the worst thing ever.”

While refugees of the Yale Club, for example, have long complained it is more corporate than clubby, the Harvard Club, on West 44th Street, has maintained a familial appeal. The membership, roughly 13,000, is made up mostly of faculty, graduates and their spouses. There is a gym with squash courts and guest rooms decorated with university memorabilia for overnight stays. Every year the club holds its own Christmas tree lighting. New York residents pay as much as $2,147 annually in dues, with nonresidents and newer graduates paying less.

A chandelier, decorated with the university shield, in Harvard Hall. Credit: Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

What makes the ruckus at the Harvard Club particularly sensitive is Harvard Hall itself. Mr. McKim built the club, adding Harvard Hall, with its blush-colored French stone walls and two walk-in fireplaces, in 1905. He and his firm, McKim, Mead & White, designed some of the most celebrated Beaux-Art architecture in America, including the University Club of New York, much of Columbia University, the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Boston Public Library.

“It is quite distinct in New York,” Mr. Bergdoll said of Harvard Hall. “It is meant to represent Harvard.”

Like many fights, the one at the Harvard Club started over money. Mr. Holland, the owner of a private investment firm who like other club officers is a volunteer, said that three years ago, the club instituted 22 recommendations to shore up its finances. One recommendation not pursued at the time was to move the a la carte dining service from the dining room, with its airy windows and high balcony, into Harvard Hall. The idea was not unprecedented; Harvard Hall hosted diners from 1905 to 1915.

Since those changes, losses in the club’s food and beverage business have persisted. A mere 8 percent of members accounted for 50 percent of a la carte dining revenue last year, suggesting the dining room is underused.

In February, the club hired Julia Heyer, a restaurant consultant whose firm has worked on projects at Grand Central Terminal and for Brooklyn Brewery. Mr. Holland said she proposed that club dining be moved to Harvard Hall and that two kitchens be separated to improve efficiency. At the same time, the current dining room, which is more spacious than Harvard Hall, could be rented out for larger weddings and banquets, generating more revenue.

The changes didn’t seem too drastic to Mr. Holland. “It’s just moving the furniture,” he said. “It’s not an earthshaking change in how the rooms are used.”

Many members, though, had a different take. In early August, three former committee members of the club sent an email to the board of trustees. The men, Jonathan David, E. Theodore Lewis Jr. and Charles Lauster, laid out reasons the proposal to turn Harvard Hall into a dining room should be rejected.

They warned that the use of the main dining room for banquets and special events would “negatively effect the ambiance of the club” and “eliminate Harvard Hall as a place of quiet enjoyment for members and guests.”

“We are not opposed to making changes that could place the Club on a sounder financial foot,” they wrote. “But we view the current proposal as ill-considered, insufficiently researched and unnecessarily disruptive.”

Mr. Holland said the authors commented without knowing all the facts. (In an email, Mr. David said the three men declined to comment.) Herbert Pliessnig, the club’s general manager, said in an interview that the club planned to hold only an additional five to 10 events annually if the proposal were adopted.

The current dining hall could be rented out for more events if dining were moved to Harvard Hall. Credit: Ramsay de Give for The New York Times

Mr. Holland said of the men: “They really care about the club. How they go about it is their business, whatever they do.”

Their email was widely shared among members, particularly the club’s special interest groups, who frequently meet to discuss topics like American literature, politics or history.

Some were concerned that they would have limited access to quiet rooms if the Harvard Club rented out more space to outsiders. Others were displeased that lunch would no longer be served on the balcony of the main dining room, a favorite gathering spot, if that room were turned into an event space. Mr. Holland said he has received hundreds of emails, mostly in opposition.

One of those letters was from Seth  Herbert, a former vice president and senior international counsel at Estée Lauder who has been a club member for 25 years. He said in an interview that he had left the Yale Club (he has degrees from both schools) because it no longer felt like “home” and that he worried the same would happen to the Harvard Club. “I’m very ambivalent about the proposal,” he said. “It is a major decision that affects the culture of the club.”

Mr. Holland said there would be no decision on Harvard Hall without a vote of the members. He and his team have held three meetings to present the plan. At the first one, on Sept. 7, they laid out two options: members could choose to make Harvard Hall a dining room or they could not. If they opposed the change, annual dues could increase by as much as 10 percent, according to the presentation.

The Sept. 12 meeting, judging by the recording, was particularly tense. Among other accusations, one man told Mr. Holland that an email sent to members with the headline, “Enhancing Your Member Experience,” mischaracterized the seriousness of the proposed change. Most people didn’t read past the first sentence, the man said.

By the third meeting, on Sept. 18, “it was more mixed, but still emotional,” Mr. Holland said. “A couple of times I had to explain that we are volunteers and we are trying to do good.”

Luxury Lake Tahoe Hotel Adds $10 Million Lakefront Club

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe hotel has opened a luxury perk for guests called the Lake Club on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

The hotel and spa is at the Northstar California Resort, which is mid-mountain at a ski resort in Truckee. The new Lake Club is about 20 minutes away on the lake.

Lake Club adds to the resort’s summertime offerings. In winter, the Ritz boasts a location where skiers can literally ski from the hotel to Northstar, with the hotel offering a ski equipment concierge.

The new club features outdoor dining by the lake or on an upstairs deck, a private boat pier for kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. It also has an outdoor spa, fire pit and a large lawn. The $10 million project was completed at the end of June, said Kira Cooper, spokeswoman for the resort.

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe has 152 regular guest rooms, 16 executive suites, and three Ritz-Carlton suites, which range from 1,900 to 2,600 square feet. The presidential suite rents for between $2,000 to $5,000 a night, depending on season and other factors. The regular rooms and suites range from more than $400 to $1,900 a night, according to the Marriott International Inc. (Nasdaq: MAR) booking engine. The rates vary by season.

The new Lake Club adds another feature to what is already an amenity-laden hotel. Despite being a relatively small hotel by its room count, it features a huge 17,000-square-foot spa.

The Lake Club is available as a special room package for hotel guests, or it can be added to regular rooms for a $250 daily access fee, which includes food and most beverages. Fees vary on a seasonal basis.

The hotel runs an hourly shuttle between the lake and the main property, Cooper said.

The architecture and interior design of the club was done by Tahoe City-based Walton Architecture + Engineering, an architectural design, interior design and engineering firm.

The Best New Business Hotel in London Isn’t a Business Hotel at All

Two ultra-hip hoteliers have brought a first-of-its-kind haven for corporate creatives to the city’s financial district.

Don’t even think about calling the Ned a business hotel.

Yes, behind its grand 1920s Midland Bank facade it’s the size of a convention center property, with 320,000 total square feet of space. And yes, it’s located smack in the middle of the City, London’s finance and business core.

But a business hotel is the very last thing the Ned’s founders set out to create. Based on repeated warnings from their handlers, they seem to consider those two words nothing short of anathema.

Above: One of several bars at the Ned, opening soon in London’s City neighborhood.

The Ned is the first collaboration between Andrew Zobler and Nick Jones, red-hot hoteliers with a gift for attracting the crème de la crème of the creative class. Jones founded Soho House, while Zobler is chief executive of Sydell Group, which develops and operates such acclaimed properties as the Nomad in New York, the Freehand in Miami and Chicago, and the Line in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

If Jones’s Soho House hotels have been like indie movies, as he characterized them in an interview, then this is his big blockbuster.

The project is massive in both size and investment: 252 rooms in 13 categories; seven public restaurants; a private members’ club; three bars; a rooftop pool; six meeting and event spaces; a barbershop; a women’s hair studio; separate salons for facials and skin rejuvenation, make-up, and nails; a fitness club; and a spa.

Above: Rooms at the Ned range from smaller “crash pads” to studio suites, such as this one, in addition to heritage rooms, built into the bank’s former office spaces. The most spacious rooms are signature suites, with the 1,076-square-foot Lutyens Suite taking up the largest footprint

While the team declined to comment on their total budget, the recent restoration of the glitzy Corinthia, another sprawling London hotel, cost a cool $490 million. And despite the prowess of both hoteliers, neither was willing to tackle the project alone.

“Nick had never done anything of this scale, but he understands London as well as anybody and has a great aesthetic and style,” Zobler said of their partnership. “We understood the hotel business and development very well. Together we made a great team.”

Jones concurred: “We’ve been responsible for the design, and they’ve been responsible for the implementation—it’s been a super-successful collaboration.”

Above: Elements of the old Midland Bank are still on display at the Ned, giving it a clear sense of time and place.

“Lifestyle hotels used to be synonymous with this idea of ‘boutique,’” said Zobler. “Small meant better. More intimate.” He sees that changing. “Growing in scale means you can offer a larger range of amenities,” he explained.

Those separate men’s and women’s salons perfectly prove the point: They’ll come in handy whether guests are going to black-tie weddings or buttoned-up board meetings. Ditto the meeting rooms with private terraces or the 24-hour British brasserie called Millie’s (as convenient for locals’ post-party munchies as it will be for suits with late-night flight arrivals).

“Nobody wants to stay in the same boring business hotels with the same restaurant menus and the same ugly awnings,” said Jack Ezon of Ovation Travel, whose company books at least 30,000 corporate room nights in London annually. “You want a cool place with a great vibe that gets you in a good mood, especially if you’re entertaining. And if you can combine that with big, nice rooms, it’s even better,” he added.

The Ned, he says, ticks those boxes. Entertaining will be easy, with eight restaurants that include a sister to Cecconi’s in Mayfair; a Jewish deli; a Parisian-inspired café; and several spaces that will be for guest use only, such as a bar in the bank building’s old vault space, a rooftop grill, and a ritzy American steakhouse.

“For business travelers, the Ned is a game-changer,” said Ezon, estimating that the project will likely see 60 percent to 80 percent of its occupancy checking “business” on their immigration forms.

Above: The Ned’s private club spaces merge midcentury pieces with contemporary edge.

“You have to be a member to walk into a Soho House building, but a good night at the Ned will see every sort of person in there—that’s what will make it interesting and exciting, I think,” said Jones, whose previous projects have always been characterized by a sense of exclusivity. “The Ned is for everyone.”

Yet that’s not entirely true. While most of the restaurants and public spaces will in fact be open to the public, a private membership club will still give the Ned an elite bent.

Included in the membership cost (which starts at 1,500 British pounds, or $1,880) is access to a series of private spaces, such as the aforementioned restaurants, a marble-clad gym, and a spa with a hammam, sauna, and swimming pool. Perhaps the hardest tables to book on property will be those at the Princes Dome and Poultry Dome bars, two visually spectacular watering holes built into round rooftop atriums.

Although exclusivity is a long-held focus of Soho House clubs, getting admitted here won’t require you to be a creative professional. The hotel’s position in the City will force it to open its network beyond the traditional editorial, art, and fashion types.

“What we’re really hoping for is a blend of people,” said Zobler, who said that “getting the alchemy right” would require a diverse mix of business travelers, startup entrepreneurs, transient locals, leisure types, and beyond. “We’re trying to cultivate that through the diversity of the offerings,” he explained.

Until now, there have been few exciting places to stay in the City, except for an Andaz, an Indigo, and a few unbranded, unremarkable crash pads. But that’s changing, and not just because of the Ned.

Ezon says the recently opened Four Seasons Ten Trinity—also in a historic building with a private members’ club—is another noteworthy City site, despite having a more traditional feel. “They’ll cater to a similar comp set but a different psychographic,” explained Ezon. “One for the more trendy, and one for the more traditional.”

Zobler hopes bringing the cool-kid cred to the City will help change the neighborhood even further. “The center of gravity in London has really moved east. You used to want to stay in the West End and went to the City just to do business. Now that so much has moved east to Shoreditch and beyond, the City has actually become a great hub,” he said. To his point: Nightlife, shops, and tech companies have moved in, and restaurants are expanding their hours past 8:00 p.m. for the first time.

London isn’t alone in this regard. One of the hottest new hotels in New York, the Beekman, is also in an historic building in the once-bland Financial District. And in Los Angeles, Zobler is developing a Nomad downtown rather than in glamorous Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.

“Financial districts tend to have these old incredible buildings, and people have a yearning to be in places that have a sense of history,” he said.

Plus, good real estate deals bring in a creative, regenerative energy. “In the coming years, you’ll see the City’s office spaces—they’re reasonably priced and well connected [to public transportation]–being filled up by interesting tech and advertising firms,” predicted Jones.

Above: Another room at the Ned.

“Business hotels need to learn to cater to a younger demographic,” said Ezon. “They need to capture local energy and have some life to them.” That’s exactly what the Ned is designed to do.

So call it an urban resort if you must, but we’ll raise our glass to Zobler and Jones for creating the business hotel of the future—one that’s not strictly for business at all.

Fashion Show Fundraiser

Sunday, April 23, 2017     Time: 2:00pm to 4:00pm


Featuring fashions presented by:

Bernstein & Gold

d.g. bremner & co.

Hughes Clothing

Outlooks Menswear

* Light Refreshments * Chit Bar * Door Prizes *

$35 per person
($10 charitable receipt available upon request)

Tel: 250-384-1151 (ext. 0)

Centennial Ballroom Update – 01.13.17

After another week of hard work in the Ballroom, things are progressing quite well.

The ceiling tiles that contained asbestos adhesive have been removed by the abatement team.  The walls have been stripped of the aged wood paneling, and electrical wiring has begun.  Also, all cavities that were found in the concrete (behind the wood paneling) have been framed and filled with insulation.

We look forward to providing further updates next week!


Centennial Ballroom Update – 01.06.17

President Beck overseeing the project to-date.

President Beck overseeing the project to-date.

The Centennial Ballroom renovation began, as scheduled, on Monday, January 2, 2017.  The first week’s work consisted of stripping the Ballroom, and preparing for the asbestos abatement team to arrive.  In preparing for this project, the ceiling tiles were tested for asbestos, and luckily the tests came back negative.  There was no asbestos in the tiles, however the adhesive used to mount the tiles was found to have trace amounts of asbestos.  This will all be removed over the next couple of days.




We look forward to providing further updates next week.

Another Club Improvement Project Underway!